Business

“Reprehensible:” CBD Biz Pushes Back at Bogus Covid Claims

By Dan Mitchell Apr 24, 2020
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Dan Mitchell is a veteran journalist based in Oakland, Calif. He has written for The New York Times, Fortune, Wired, National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribun...
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Dan Mitchell is a veteran journalist based in Oakland, Calif. He has written for The New York Times, Fortune, Wired, National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, Leafly, and many other publications.
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“WARNING! RIPOFF!” reads the opening of a web site devoted to the alleged chicanery of Wisconsin woman, Stacy Deprey-Purper. Over the past ten years, according to Deprey-Purper’s LinkedIn page, she has led or helped to lead companies in industries as disparate as newspapers, travel, renewable energy and online advertising.

Deprey-Purper, who did not respond to requests for comment, also has a business selling CBD oil. Earlier this month her company, Native Roots Hemp, was one of several CBD vendors warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop claiming CBD prevents or cures Covid-19. According to the letter, dated April 6, Native Roots Hemp had claimed on its site that one of its products “speeds up Recovery from Coronavirus” and is “antiviral and inhibits cell proliferation.” 

On April 5, Purper tweeted: “Say NO to #socialism . Vote Republican.” Her Twitter bio there identifies her as “CBD Specialist, Tech inventor, Speaker. Not black. Not white. #Human.”

According to the FDA, another post on the company’s Facebook page read: “Don’t Fear the #CoronaVirus FIGHT it with us! Soap, immune boosting oils & more!” Those claims appear to have been taken down. 

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“Outlandish”

Established CBD companies say unproven health claims about the chemical hurt the legitimate industry. “We don’t need statements like ‘CBD can cure the Covid virus’ coming out of left field. It’s outlandish,” said Pat Clickener, who runs Oregon farm, Bonanza Hemp with her husband Robert. 

The CBD industry is filled with fly-by-night operators trying to exploit the product’s popularity, which  began in earnest right around when states began legalizing cannabis. Besides making unfounded or shaky health claims, some of them sell products labelled CBD, which don’t contain CBD. Some dub      products “organic,” even when they don’t adhere to organic standards — which is against the law. Some CBD products have been found adulterated with potentially harmful ingredients. 

Even when health claims have some validity, they can run afoul of FDA regulations and, perhaps, federal law. In its letter to Deprey-Purper, the FDA says its review found “these products are unapproved new drugs sold in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. 

CBD, and other components of the cannabis plant, might well yield all kinds of health benefits. But at this point, there’s not enough evidence to confirm most of these potential benefits. CBD has been proven to help control certain kinds of epileptic seizures. The FDA approved a CBD drug, Epidiolex, in 2018.      

There is data of varying quality attesting to CBD’s effectiveness in relieving pain, some skin conditions, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and insomnia. Beyond that, little is known. Researchers are looking into the potential anti-viral properties of cannabis, and CBD in particular. But they are a long way from proving that it’s an effective anti-viral agent, much less a treatment for Covid-19. There are currently no cures or vaccines for the virus. 

It’s About the Ingredients

For a CBD company, “Making any kind of health claim raises the risk of FDA enforcement,” said Daniel Shortt, an attorney who represents CBD clients for Harris Bricken. He recommends letting customersdo their own research, and marketing CBD on the quality of its ingredients and manufacture.      

Languate that CBD is “calming” or “soothes pain” might be on firmer scientific footing, but Shortt said that doesn’t matter to the FDA. As for the companies who say CBD can prevent or cure Covid-19, Shortt called them “reprehensible” and accused them of “trying to profit off a crisis.” 

The most famous recipient of an FDA letter was ex-NFLer Kyle Turley, who got lots of attention for his March 29 tweet: “CANNABIS WILL PREVENT & CURE COVID19!!!!!!!…..commence the hate.” Turley had been part-owner of a cannabis dispensary in Moreno Valley, Calif., and of the CBD company, NeuroXPF, that got an FDA warning letter two days after that tweet.

Turley subsequently said he had given up his stakes in the companies so that he could continue spreading the word about CBD as a Covid cure on Twitter and elsewhere. The company stopped making the claims. 

Another warning letter recipient, California-based Indigo Naturals, had posted on Facebook, as quoted by the FDA: “There’s so much worry and panic today about COVID19/Coronavirus. We should not panic but take some extra care of ourselves to boost our immune systems. … Read our new blog post about how CBD and natural supplements can boost our immune system.”

The post has been taken down. Indigo Naturals did not respond to requests for comment.

“Not Helping Legal Producers”

Etienne Fontan, a co-founder of Berkeley Patients Group, which claims to be the country’s oldest dispensary, said CBD companies shouldn’t make unproven health claims.  Part of the problem with doing so is the lack of research behind even the more-solid claims for cannabis. “Anyone making anecdotal claims now puts them in a dangerous position of being seen as a snake-oil salesperson,” he said. “In the absence of studies and real science, the market has been inundated with people who think they know best.”

In the more egregious cases, he said, these companies “are not helping legal producers with outrageous claims that science cannot back up.” 

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Dan Mitchell
Business columnist